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Mr. John Marshall: Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that in his answers of December 1993 he quite unwittingly misled the House? Can he tell the House who saw those draft answers before he put his signature to them? Does he also agree that the head of the Serious Fraud Office should resign because of the botched nature of the prosecution of Roger Levitt and the fact that, subsequently, he appeared not to be in command of his brief?
The Attorney-General: With respect, I do not agree with my hon. Friend, but I shall answer his question. I think that I have given the fullest series of answers on any criminal case about the detailed history in relation to this case, including answers to my hon. Friend. I shall be perfectly clear with the House. I know a great deal more about the case today than I knew about it when I was first answering in December 1993. The substance of my answer, and one point in particular which I think that my hon. Friend has in mind, is correct. But if I had known everything that I know today, I would have phrased it
Column 1305somewhat differently. I have made that perfectly clear in answers which I have hitherto given and which I am giving to the House today.
Mr. Donald Anderson: The Attorney-General must surely realise that there is a sense of public outrage. When bank clerks and postal workers misappropriate trivial sums of money, they immediately go to prison, yet when Mr. Levitt decided that he did not want to go to prison, the system seemed to conspire to meet his wish. Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman feel a similar sense of outrage that he clearly, personally was misled by his own advisers and that, as a result, inadvertently--we totally concede--he misled the House? What he has said today will not end this matter. It will not go away as he would want. Unless and until an independent inquiry looks into the conflict between the several counsel in this case and the background of the misleading of the Attorney-General, it will go on and on.
The Attorney-General: The hon. Gentleman raised two points. The first was about the sense of public disquiet as to the outcome of the Levitt case. The later stages of the case were not happy. What went on is very much in the public domain and I do not think that anyone is particularly happy about that. In part, that has given rise, rightly or wrongly, to the disciplinary proceedings which are to be heard before the disciplinary committee of the Bar Council, at which--I repeat this to the hon. Gentleman--these matters will no doubt be fully explored by a tribunal which will have to decide very difficult issues. Frankly, those issues are not for this House. I have given very full and candid answers to the House. I have corrected my earliest answer on one particular, which should not, I respectfully say, be exaggerated.
The nub of the question suggested that the Crown was trying to throw in the towel from an early stage. That is not correct, I am satisfied of that. But I have expanded my answer to make it clear that there was a to-ing and fro- ing between counsel. This could have been described as a "suggestion", so long as it was not understood in the way that I have explained and made clear since.
The Attorney-General: The law on public interest immunity has been developed primarily by the courts. Public interest immunity certificates are one of the subjects under consideration by Sir Richard Scott. The Government will take careful note of any conclusions and recommendations in his report.
Mr. Prentice: Can the Attorney-General tell the House why Customs and Excise has refused on three occasions to hand over copies of public interest immunity certificates to Sir Richard Scott, which he considers necessary for the completion of his inquiry? Is not it as plain as a pikestaff that the Government are strewing with obstacles the path that Sir Richard Scott is treading in trying to get some truth from the arms to Iraq inquiry?
The Attorney-General: I am sure that the answer to the latter question is a flat no. I confess that I do not know exactly what the hon. Gentleman is referring to in the question about certificates going to Sir Richard Scott. If he
Column 1306is referring to the three public interest immunity certificates which are before the Court of Appeal today, I am given to understand that the court has indicated that it has no objection to those certificates going to Sir Richard, and they will go to Sir Richard. May I just add this: a big lie, a wholly false notion, that the signing by Ministers of public interest immunity certificates somehow involves sleaze or impropriety, has been spinning around the globe for three years.
The Attorney-General: The hon. Gentleman says that he wonders why. It is because people like him have not bothered to look into the system. The hon. Gentleman and the House should know that, in a criminal case, when there is a public interest immunity certificate, every document covered by that certificate is shown to the judge before he makes a decision. That happened in the Matrix Churchill case and it is happening in the Ordtech case which is before the Court of Appeal today. The big lie should be laid to rest now.
Mr. Garnier: Can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm, both as a matter of fact and as a matter of law, that the public interest immunity certificate system cannot, under any circumstances, operate as a gagging order? As my right hon. and learned Friend has just said, does not the criminal trial judge look at every document covered by the certificate?
The Attorney-General: My hon. and learned Friend is quite right. The expression "gagging order" is part of that big lie. The system is created by the courts, and has been approved and modified by the courts. I can confirm what my hon. and learned Friend said: in a criminal case every document covered by a PII certificate is shown to the judge so that he or she can decide whether or not the document should be disclosed to the defence for use in the trial.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Jeremy Hanley): We have no plans to review our aid programme to Nigeria. Since the annulment of democratic elections in 1993 new projects have been confined to those bringing direct benefits to poor Nigerians.
I urge the Minister to stop all aid to Nigeria. Surely, that country is now behaving like a banana republic--it refused to recognise the free and fair 1993 elections, imprisoned the victor, Moshood Abiola and prosecuted, on a fraudulent basis, with the promise of a death penalty, Ken Saro-Wiwa and other representatives of the Ogoni people. The Government are not fit to be recognised by the rest of the world and a tough stand must be taken against them to ensure that human rights abuses end and democracy is restored as soon as possible.
Column 1307on these responsibilities. It is a great honour to be a Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; it is one of the most fascinating and absorbing of offices. My slightly less than conventional direction of approach to the Department makes no difference to my delight at serving in it.
To turn to the matter at hand, the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) knows Nigeria well and has taken on responsibilities there on our behalf. He will know that, if we stopped aid to Nigeria, the people who would suffer would not be the military Government, but the poorest people. We take great care to ensure that aid goes directly to the poor. We avoid using the Government; we use non-governmental organisations wherever possible. Exactly those people for whom the hon. Gentleman cares would suffer if we followed his policy.
Mr. Lester: Will my right hon. Friend look into the case of General Obasanjo, whom many of us know and have worked with. He has been charged and convicted by a military court and we are concerned that somebody of his age and experience should be kept under house arrest or in prison.
Does my right hon. Friend have any knowledge about whether General Abacha is going to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Auckland? If the general is not going, will my right hon. Friend try to persuade him to go so that he can receive the full weight of the views of the Commonwealth leaders on the way that he is running his country?
Mr. Hanley: We noticed, of course, the announcement on 14 July that 40 people have been found guilty, by a military tribunal, in connection with an alleged coup plot. We understand that the verdicts have been submitted to the Provisional Ruling Council for approval and we strongly urge the PRC to display clemency when considering the verdicts against all the accused.
To answer my hon. Friend's second question, there is widespread concern in the Commonwealth about continued military government in west Africa. It is contrary to the principles of the 1991 Harare declaration. It is difficult to see how Nigeria can play a full role in Commonwealth affairs until it puts its house in order.
responsibilities--I am sure that he will find them more satisfying than his previous incarnation.
Has the Minister had time to discover that one of the criteria for awarding British aid is good governance? Has he seen the comment by his colleague the right hon. and noble Baroness Chalker that, unless there are changes in Nigeria, its membership of the Commonwealth must be reconsidered? I hope that the Minister will confirm that that is not merely rhetoric because the imprisonment of a democratically elected leader is quite intolerable. It is not something that could be described--to use one of his previous phrases-- as "mere exuberance".
Mr. Hanley: It is a particular honour and a pleasure to answer in this place for my right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Chalker. I look forward to working with her on this portfolio for many months to come. [Interruption.] For many, many months to come. We are talking about very serious matters, so I ask the hon. Gentleman to lift his game a little.
Column 1308We share the considerable Commonwealth and African concern about Nigeria. However, sanctions or other such measures could be decided only by the Commonwealth collectively if we chose to embark on that course of action. I agree with my right hon. and noble Friend that Nigeria should have taken very clear steps forward before the Auckland Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, including announcing a credible timetable for a return to civilian democratic rule. I thoroughly agree with the hon. Gentleman's final comments about the imprisonment of any democratically elected person.
Mr. Hanley: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is operating a care and maintenance programme for Saharawi refugees in southern Algeria. As a leading donor to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Overseas Development Administration contributed more than £20 million in 1994 to the general programme budget from which those contributions were made.
Mr. Corbyn: Does the Minister accept that the Saharawi people have been dealt a dreadful blow by the actions of Morocco in occupying the western Sahara for many years? Is not it very important to increase pressure to complete the registration programme so that a referendum can be held to allow the Saharawi people to decide their own future? Despite the aid that is being given, 200,000 people are living in exile and 10,000 people have been homeless and bereft of almost any support since the very serious floods last year. Can the Minister see his way clear to increase the amount of aid that Britain gives--particularly for health, education, housing and food--to ensure that those people can at least live decently until they have the opportunity for a free and democratic vote and can return to their homes?
Mr. Hanley: I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman says. We do not recognise Moroccan sovereignty or jurisdiction over the western Sahara. We do recognise the UNHCR's figures, which show a current annual aid programme of about $3.5 million, and, as I said earlier, the United Kingdom assistance flows through the UNHCR. Morocco and Algeria also receive substantial multilateral aid, particularly through the European Union. Morocco received about £369 million in the fourth European Community- Morocco financial protocol and Algeria received nearly £300 million. So substantial aid is going to the people to whom the hon. Gentleman has correctly drawn the attention of the House. We will make sure that that aid is used effectively. We will examine the matter of the October floods but I note that it was not judged necessary to launch an international appeal, although there has been aid in that regard.
Column 1309Will the right hon. Gentleman use his time as a new Minister in the Foreign Office to look afresh at this scandalous issue? The little- known conflict has been going on ever since Spain withdrew from her former colonies. The United Nations peacekeeping mandate lasts only until the end of September, so it is urgent that Britain uses its influence in the Security Council and elsewhere to persuade the Moroccans to agree to hold a referendum on fair terms and allow those people their post-colonial rights to self-determination.
Mr. Hanley: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome, and I look forward not only to working with the Department but to working with him. My first challenge will be an Adjournment debate on Wednesday, for which I thank the right hon. Gentleman. The Government are doing everything we can to encourage a referendum, and to discourage--for exactly the reasons that the right hon. Gentleman gave--anything that delays the holding of such a referendum.
Column 1310Mr. Hanley: We provide agricultural expertise through the bilateral aid programme to some 38 countries. I shall place a list of those countries in the Library of the House for the hon. Gentleman's assistance.
Mr. Pike: Is not it important for agricultural expertise to be given on every occasion possible? Does the Minister recognise the importance of the problems which have existed in Pakistan for the past few years caused by the pest that is doing so much damage to the cotton crop, and thereby to the whole economy, of that country?
Mr. Hanley: Yes, I agree very much with the hon. Gentleman's opening remarks. We spent some £58 million on all aspects of technical co- operation--including expertise in agriculture, livestock and fisheries--in 1993-94, and the equivalent figure for forestry and agri-forestry is some £28 million. The ODA, through the Natural Resources Institute in Chatham, has supported research into the control of cotton pests in Pakistan since 1985, with current research focusing on the use of pheromones in controlling cotton pests and on ways of combating the resistance of pests to chemical sprays. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's interest in the matter.
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